The world of the executive assistant revolves around details. Our aim is to get every single one 100% correct. And not only that but we should be anticipating where things might go south and have a contingency plan (or two) up our sleeves. It goes something like this:
PLAN A: Perfection
PLAB B: Smooth transition to back to perfection
But let’s face it: try as we might, we will drop the ball. We are human. That plan on which you’d just spent weeks or maybe even months could fail and you could find yourself holding the short end of the stick. For me, it happened at 2:00AM – a text letting me know that my boss’s travel was disrupted because he didn’t have a required visa to exit the foreign country he was visiting with his family. Oh shit. I quickly shot out of bed, tried to remember how to put on pants and drove immediately to my office. I was gutted that I had let this slip through the cracks. But it wasn’t so much that it slipped through the cracks. In reality, it had never even occurred to me that he would need a visa. It was an oversight, an oversight that ended up being a huge pain in the ass for my manager.
But I’ve learned a few things about mistakes in my tenure of working as an assistant:
- The fear of making a mistake is no excuse to keep from being bold. A good assistant needs to act, often with little information. You can’t let the fear that you might make the wrong decision keep you from moving forward. Not sure how to word an email or what to say in an uncomfortable call? It’s OK, just move forward (a good time to let yourself do a shitty job).
- Use the lesson you learn from making that mistake to help you shore up your procedures. You better believe that ‘visa requirements’ is now on my travel checklist. There is no opportunity for me to forget this again as I don’t plan a single trip without referring to my checklist.
- That mistake you made? It is not you. It is something you did. There is nothing to be gained from feeling like a failure and ruminating on how awful you feel. It is a good time to remember that your boss has made a bunch of mistakes on their way to the position they hold. They learned from experience and you will too.
I’m taking a page out of my boss’s playbook on this one. He’s a self-professed ‘life-long learner’ – to me, that just means that he’s agreed to keep on moving forward regardless of any setbacks along the way. I plan to do the same.